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"Wedding of Two Souls": Same-Sex Marriage and Hindu Traditions Author(s): Ruth Vanita Source: Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Fall, 2004), pp. 119-135 Published by: Indiana University Press on behalf of FSR, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25002506 . Accessed: 13/04/2011 05:18
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eds. When Iwas educated atDelhi University in the 1970s and throughoutthe period that I taught there..magazines.2000). from 1976 to 1996. Iwas active in thewomen's movement. I found that a similarsilence prevailed then in feministpolitics aswell. keptmy private and public personae almost entirely separate. I." Whether or not a government recognizes same-sexmarriage. The followingmonth we held awedding who conducted the Jewish ceremony said reception inNew Delhi. as one of the founding editors ofManushi magazine and an activist means female human in thewomen's organization thatproduced it (manushi being). I published some essays andwrote a PhD dissertation on same-sex rela tionships represented in English literary texts. Many of the leadingactivists inwomen's groups were lesbians. I married my partner. For more than two decades.2This col 1 My dissertationwas rewritten and published as Sappho and the VirginMary: Same-Sex ColumbiaUniversity Press. and newspapers. historianSaleem Kidwai (whohad been making a similar collection) and I began towork on what became the book Same-SexLove in India:Readingsfrom Literature and History. The rabbi thatwe were married "in the eyes of God and of all enlightened people.From 1978 to 1990. same-sex lovewas almost never mentioned in the academy. In 1995. inNew York with Jewish andHindu ceremonies. 1996). too. Same-SexLove in India:Readingsfrom Literature andHistory (NewYork:Palgrave. no government can tell people whom to lovenor can it exert exclusive control overmarriage or people's understand ing of marriage. both left-wingand right-wing."WEDDING OF TWO SOULS" Same-SexMarriage andHindu Traditions Ruth Vanita In 2000. . and however a government chooses to define marriage.'My colleagues at Delhi Uni versitywere appreciative of thiswork.How ever.but they nevermentioned or discussed this in activist forums. Love and theEnglish Literary Imagination (NewYork: 2Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai. I also collected every reference to homosexuality in India that I came across in books. a JewishAmerican woman.

It be said to have had its genesis in June 1980. and Kidwai and I have demonstrated that sexual identitieswere constructed in ancient andmedieval Indian texts.120 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion lection of translationsfrom texts in fifteen Indian languagescomposed over a period of more than two thousandyears. times.without any extended history of persecution. south India. exposes as false themyth that same-sex desire is unknown in traditionalIndianculture.especiallyHindu. 3 Ruth Vanita. alongwith editorial essays contextu alizing and analyzing them. "First ofQueerness inClassical Indian ology Medicine. 4 (1993): .who left behind letters stat ing that they could not bear to be separated from each other. in the rightcircumstances.4In the present article. when two countries (theNetherlands and Belgium) have rec ognized same-sexmarriage and a third. In subsequent decades there were a series of such joint suicides and also several female femaleweddings indifferent parts of India.when I first read the amazing fourteenth-centurysacrednarrative of the birth of a heroic child. the same-sex Of weddings. and Lalithambika. Leela Namdeo and Urmila Srivastava.We also found textualevidence of marriagelike unions. in 2004. and thatFoucault and his followersarewrong about the first such constructionhaving occurred inmodern Euro-America. and places nevertheless have something in common-in differentways they point to the possibility of same-sex love and commitment being sanctified. words to hismale beloved.3 This book arises from three extraordinary moments and sets of events.seventeen-in Kerala. parenthood. to twowomen who make lovewith divine blessing. andmar riage-each is a rite of passage." Same-sex relationshipshave been a subject of debate for centuries in In dian texts. These events in vastly different cultures. in 1988. in Shakespeare's love'srite. Zwilling. I focus on ideasof same-sexunion in Indian. Love's Rite: Same-Sex Marriage and Its Antecedents in India and the West (NewDelhi: Penguin. while the United States is being galvanized by theMassachusetts Supreme Court decision that requires the state to recognize same-sexmarriage. is on the verge of doing so. forthcoming).Kidwai and I conclusivelydemonstrated that same-sex love and romantic friendship flourished in ancient andmedieval India in various forms.The secondmoment was in 1996. In subsequent years I discoveredmore versions of this narra tive and have continued to ponder itsmeaning. no.Death.when I read newspaper re may ports of a joint suicide attempt by two young women-Mallika. 4 See Michael Sweet andLeonard Medicalization:The TaxonomyandEti J. and eachmay also. culture. Bhagiratha. an area that I furtherexplore in my forthcomingbook. twenty."Journal of theHistory of Sexuality3. re ceived themost attention and is discussed in this article. thatbe tween two policewomen. The third is the present mo ment. the "perfectceremony of become.Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling. Love's Rite: Same-Sex Marriage and ItsAntecedents in India and theWest.Canada.

but certain texts aremore important to certainHindu traditionsthan others and are dif ferently interpretedby them. 590-607. to animism and even agnosticismor atheism. Homosexuality in the See alsoRobert P. Gabriel Blau (Bard College God and SexualityProject)."ed.5 strand inpremodernHindu thinkingbecame hegemonic andmarginalized all the other. no. "'LikeaCity Ablaze':The Third Sex and theCre ation of Sexuality in JainReligious Literature. 3 (1996): 359-84. are consideredbymany Hindus to be more sacred than others. no. aswell asRuth Vanita's"Introduc Medieval Materials in the Sanskritic Ancient Indian tion: Materials" and "Introduction: Tradition". andAnxiety inTraditional India." in "Traditional World Religions. there is a god and a storyor variationof a story forpracticallyevery activity. the de of adhering to dharma.andway of life. Same-SexLove in India."Journal of theHistory of Sexuality 6. like more widely the BhagavadGita and versions of the Ramayana.and Intersex Hinduism (Philadelphia: Conditions through Xlibris. Vanita andKidwai'spreface to Same-SexLove in India. 5 See. 3 (1993): 374-401. British rulers imported a virulent homophobia into India and other countries they colonized. like theVedas. inclination. They foster a very wide rangeof philosophy and practice. formore details.More specifically. See also "Introduction toModern IndianMaterials.Hinduism has well over a thousand years' history of written commentary and debate on sacred texts. the hierarchy of texts differs widely from one Hindu community to another. Sweet.Goldman." in Vanita andKidwai. Tritiya Prakriti:Peopleof theThird Sex. Indianattitudes towardsex and lovewere radicallytransformedduring the colonial era. These include the doctrine of rebirth. 1983)."Journal of the American Oriental Society 113. Views andModer Responses to andRuth Vanita. Indiannationalists imbibedVic torian idealsof heterosexualmonogamy and disowned anything in indigenous The distaste for sex thatwas one traditionsthat seemed to flout those ideals. "HinduismandHomosexuality. and the idea that the uni sirability verse and everything in it partake of the divine.Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls" 121 The cultures thathave come to be calledHindu (a term firstused bywest Asian Muslims to distinguish non-Muslim inhabitantsof the subcontinent) constitute one of the oldest living religions in the world. polytheism. 2004). . one can tentatively identifycertain ideasbroadly accepted inmainstreamHin duism and bymost Hindus today.No one textcan be used to entirely invalidatethe authorityof others.Despite this diversity. rangingfrom monotheism. and some. more pleasure-oriented strands of thinking. written and oral. nor is there one priestly hierarchy that can dictate to all others. The IntimateEnemy: Loss and Recovery of Selfunder Colonialism (Delhi: Oxford University Press. and Amara Das Wilhelm.TransgenderIdentity. e. "Transsexualism. Ashis Nandy.g. Gender. InHindu texts and traditions. As many historianshave shown. Though some texts today. They enshrined it in section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. andwhat nineteenth-centuryGerman IndologistMax Miiller termed "heno theism" (choosingone deity for specialworship evenwhile acknowledging the divinityof others). 191-217.. are relatively readand recited thanothers. LeonardZwilling andMichael J.UnderstandingHomosexuality. however defined.

Alternative Sciences:Creativity and Authenticity in Two Indian Scientists New Delhi: OxfordUniversity Press. theNaz Foundation filed an other petition in the same court challenging the same law. challenging this law as unconstitutional. (1980. gender is often perceived simultaneouslyas very powerful and as irrelevant. the fourth-century Kamasutra. Itwas in the context of modern homophobia that theword homosexuality was introduced into India.whether cross-sex or same-sex. Whereas Hindu ascetic traditionsview all sexualdesire as problematic and justifiable only for procreation. This is partly because Hindu texts and traditions.present from the moment of creation and causing allmovement and change.This isone di mension of a larger patternAshis Nandy describes: "Thegreater Sanskriticcul while institutionallyone of themost rigid.12). and thisword emphasizes sex rather than love. compelled their commu nities to consider same-sex relationships in terms of love and commitment rather than simply in termsof sex.which some scholars translateas "marry" 6Ashis Nandy.The current internationaldebate on same-sexmarriage is highlighting the impor tant fact thatmarriage.7 The Kamasutramentions that twomen friendswho arewell-wishers of each other and have complete trust in each other may mutually unite. one of themost tolerant. trans. of which sexual desire is only one dimension. be cause the lawyeron recordwas absent. com mitment.2.This is The the translation quoted in themain text throughout. and companionship.many other canonical texts representKama. also a sacred text.The court is still consideringwhether to admit this case. criminationCampaign]) filed a petition in the Delhi high court. .. InHinduism." Although it has been used largely to harassmen. My argument is that.122 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion 1860. ParkStreet."6 likeHindu gods and goddesses. god of love and desire. 1994). The and word parigraha is used (2. it has also occasionally been used to threaten women and casts all homosexual relationsunder the cloud of illegal In 1994 the ABVA (AIDS Bhedbhav Virodhi Andolan [Anti-AIDS Dis ity. CompleteKima Sitra (Rochester. 2003). is based on love. aremultiple andmultidimensional.36).9. some couples in India. lastyear.This paradoxmakes possible the enforcement of gendered social roles alongwith the perception of spiritualnondifference.has alwaysbeen ideologically ture. as a universalprinciple of attraction. Contrary to texts that identifyprocreation as the sole aim of sexual activity. VT: 7AlainDanielou. have. in the past two decades.The casewas dismissed a couple of years ago.which criminalizes intercourse"againstthe order of nature. 120-21. also emphasizes pleasure and joy as aims of intercourseand states that sexualde sire "finds its finality in itself' (1.most of them female. by gettingmarried to each other. and this is reflected in approaches to sexuality.while giving procreation due importance.

Since then. Same-Sex Marriage in Recent Years The most famous same-sexmarriage inmodem India is probably that of Leela Namdeo and Urmila Srivastava.9 My argument is thatwhereas prescriptive texts.In early 1988.The police suspended them from their jobs. and prescribeminor penalties for them. ."8 Classifying humans into men (who desire women). In the letters they left behind. placing sexual relations in emotional contexts. regardingthem asmildly distasteful. that one decides whether or not to practice these kinds of sexual relations.Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls" 123 others as "embrace. when.who can knowwho. Indian newspapers na tionwide reported that these two policewomen had married each other in a Hindu ceremony in a small town in central India.be tween youngwomen.'0 Joint suicides are not unique to same-sex couples. women (whodesire men). Wendy Doniger Kamasutra/Vatsyayana University Press.36. theKamasutra also notes that individuals may engage indifferent typesof sexualactivityat dif ferent times: "It isby taking into account the country.Many cross 8 Wendy Doniger and SudhirKakar translate parigraha as "do this service forone another. how. the Indian media have reported a series of marriages.9. these couples state that theyprefer union in death to separation. 10 One journalistcataloged fifteen joint same-sex suicides in the stateof Kerala alone between 1992 and 2000. Same-SexLove in India. and not primarily English-speaking. 2. 9For amore detailed analysisofhomoeroticism in theKamasutra. as well as one's own tastes. The suicideswere prompted mostly by the impending forcedmarriage of one partner. An extended discussion of the connotationsof this term in theKa masutra appears inmy forthcomingbook." UK: Oxford and SudhirKakar.9. includedpeasants. factory many other partsof India.Love'sRite. from small towns.The women. such as legal andmedical texts. tend to view same-sex relations through the lens of purity and pollution.44-45)."inVanita andKidwai. of which thirteenwere bywomen and two by men. Most of them are lower-middle-class. custom.These textsdepict same-sexunions that are marriagelike. indifferent parts of the country. trans. and students. I also have evidence of suicides from twenty-two. andwhy he does it?" (2.seemy essay "Vatsyayana's Kamasutra. None of them are connected to movements. narrative texts. almost allHindus.46-53. take a much more complex and nuanced view. women's or lesbian/gay Since 1980 the press has also reported a series of joint suicidesby couples. the period.Practiced according to his fantasyand in secret.but familyand friends supported them. although most have some education and several are employed. the injunctionsof the sacred texts. aged between sixteen and workers. and thosewho prefer the same sex. mostly women frombackgrounds similar to those of thewomen who marry. the scattered same-sexmarriages thathave takenplace in India since the 1980s are amodem rewritingof those premodern ideas. 2002). Mallanaga (Oxford..

because the soul is not gendered. likemodern Christianmarriage. "'Wedded' Woman Cops toChallenge Sack. a journalist who visited Leela and Urmila in the latter'svil where thewomen were staying with Urmila's family. right-wingHindu organizationsclaimed that same-sex rela tionswere unknown in ancientHindu India. a myth stillwidely be lieved by many Indians. they proclaimed that theywere in love. 2002). and it is dissoluble.124 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion sex couples in India also commit suicide togetherwhen hostile families refuse them permission tomarry.12 Most middle-class Indians avoid discussing sex in "polite"forums. not allwould agreewith her logicalconclu sion that. Intense love and desire forunion are understood as arising from similarcauses. "OnFire: Sexuality and Its Incitements. said to the journalist. Ruth Vanita (NewYork:Routledge.what ismarriage? It is awedding of two souls.Most ancientHindu texts rec 11 SushilaBhawasar. respectively.As distinct from themodem United States. including the classroom. 1988." andMonica Bachmann. who was a neighbor and a village schoolteacher. and relatives. and this proclamation was no different from similarproclamations by cross-sex lovers. 222-33 and 234-44.andwere imported into the coun try by west Asian Muslims and European Christians.February 23. see Geeta Patel.modern Hindu marriage.The only respectable space for cele brating sexpublicly is awedding.quoted inChinu Panchal. and others. these couples tried. in Indiaall romantic love andmarriage based upon it are seen as opposed to family-arranged marriage. . ed. For example. But. priests. tomake partner. For accounts of the Fire. through theirweddings and/or suicides. This is indicatedby comments on same-sex marriagemade by onlookers."Afterall. controversy. regulatedby a 1955 law. Where in the scriptures is it said that it has to be between aman and awoman?"" Sushila'sview of marriage as a union of two soulswould be generally accepted by most Hindus in India and also by many Christians in the West. DVD. is both a sacramentand a contract. In contrast to themajority of homosexuallyor bisexually inclinedpeople in who engage in secret same-sex liaisons while married to an opposite-sex India. tradi tionalHindu marriage is a sacrament and is not dissoluble.spokewith neighbors lage.A married woman named SushilaBhawasar.whoever the partnersmay be. 12 New YorkerFilms." in Queering India:Same-SexLove andEroticism in IndianCulture and Society. "AftertheFire. their love visible in widely understood cultural terms. 2000)." Timesof India. amarriage between twomen or two women is permissible. By marrying and/or dying together. directed byDeepa Mehta (1996. However. During the late-1990s controversy in India and among Indians in the United States around the depiction of lesbian relations in the film Fire. Like traditionalChristian marriage and unlike Muslim marriage.where same-sex love andmarriage are seen as opposed to cross-sex love andmarriage.

in the eleventh-century Sanskritstory cycle theKathasarit when Pulindaka.'4Most Indianswould readily understand this Sanskrit term as the equivalent of what today in Indian English is called a "love marriage. 2000). it requiresno parental consent. But parental consent is not essential to the validity of a away" Hindu.Suchmarriages often lead to violent conflict and the social cast ing out of the couple.Love'sRite. or even between a person and a place or ob cable. no ritual.15 ple These texts also explain in the sameway same-sex attachments that last a life time. and the father gives away his daughter as a gift to the bride groom.One traditional munities to understand and accommodate such unions involvesviewing them in the perspective of rebirth. or Christianmarriage. "Inverting (accessedOctober 3. along with other gifts. when they cross re way forHindu com gional." inVanita andKidwai." SaheliAsia. marriage Although most Hindu marriages even todayare family-arranged. The question is. ormar ognize eight typesofmarriage. he sagara." inVanita.org/Sappho/sappho08.saheli-asia. http:// Anu andGiti. Although some ancient legal textsdisapproveof this type of marriage. arranged the two individuals? Ancient Hindu lawbooks consider the best type of mar riage to be one inwhich the two families arrange thewedding. www.Mitra onHindu Law (NewDelhi: Orient. K.both sacred and secular. Same-SexLove in India. A similar idea is present in the traditional her Christian ceremony in the bride's father walking her to the altarand "giving to the groom. and other boundaries. 14 Tradition:The Marriage of Lila andUrmila. often describes it nonjudgmentallyor even celebrates it as the best form of marriage because it isbased on choice.2002). class. The narratorcomments: "Vakti manah snihyadakaaranam" (Affection [thatarises] in the heart maantarapritim 13S. a bandit chief. a priest per forms the rites. "Introduction: See the section "Rebirth: Ancient Indian Materials.no officiant. Any strong and spontaneous. Muslim. first sees themerchant Vasudatta. apparently inexpli attractionbetween persons.htm 15 The Justificationof ImpossibleLoves.For example. jan immediately feels intenselydrawn to him.'3 mutual consent. 516-17. I have found evidence in ancient textsof parents deciding to accept their children'scross-caste and cross-class marriages on the basis that the young peo must have been spouses of the same caste and class in a former lifetime. A more detailed will appear in my forthcomingbook. riageby and no witnesses. expositionof this idea . ject." as distinct from themore conventional andmore prevalent family Whose consent is requiredbesides thatof marriage. Mitra. and even to suicide and murder. individualchoice is also attested in premodem texts and is prevalent in by modem India. One article on themarriage of Leela andUrmila described their union as a gandharva vivaha. is often understood to be the consequence of an attachment in a former life.Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls" 125 One of them is thegandharva vivaha. caste. ancient and medieval narrative literature. 28-30.

4th ed.The sexmay change but the soul remains the same in subsequent hence. has retained its popularity" today..126 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion When Vasu without a cause speaksof love [persisting]from a formerbirth). Mala Nagarajan and Vega Subramaniam. himself happilymarriedwith thir teen children.women should not be constricted by sociallygendered roles. (Bombay: Nirnaya Sagara."The fact that a similarexplana tionwas given by both a Shaivite and aVaishnavapriest and by a female school teacher in an Indian village indicates the overarching cultural importanceof the notion that the spirit retains its attachments throughvarious lifetimes. In 2002 I attended the wedding of two Indianwomen. the power of love impels these souls to seek each other. the ideaof the spirit changinggender A fromone lifetime to another.. in Seattle. some persons. 18I also explore inmy forthcomingbook. the archetypal bates the question with philosopher king Janakaand successfullyproves that. and when Vasudatta kills himself.16 datta later falls in lovewith thewoman who becomes hiswife. TheWorld ofHomosexuals (NewDelhi: Vikas. no. The Kathasaritsagara of So madevabhatta. thoughhe realized thatother priests inhis lineagemight disagree with him. having remembered his former births. Hijras.and the spirit isnot male or female. few of theweddings reportedas female-female in India in facthave involved transgenderor transsexual men. The continuityof such ideasbetween past and present and between writ modern Hindu priests ten and oral traditionsis evident in the fact that several have given similarexplanationsfor same-sex love.de ancient Sanskritepic the Mahabharata. 2 (Summer2003): 76-93." NWSAJournal 15. 1977).herself unmarried. he thought about it and. . his wife and his male friend kill themselves alongwith him.Sulabha. even today themost popular version of the Rama story inBengal. as the spirithas no gender and is the same in all beings. concluded on the basis of Hindu scriptures that "marriageis a union of spirits. see my essay "TheSelf IsNot Gendered: Sulabha's with King Janaka. eds. The idea that the spirithas no gender is found in several woman sage. 17Shakuntala Devi. The Shaivite priest who conducted the Hindu ceremony toldme thatwhen he was requested to officiate. SriRangam in south India.All three spend their lives together.. It is "saidby literaryhistorians to be the most popular single book in all of pre with a half dozen modern Bengal. 16 Pandit Durgaprasad and Kasinath Pandurang Parab.'8 Child of Two Mothers: Monstrous or Miraculous? An example of amarriagelike union between twowomen is found in a set of canonical fourteenth-century texts. exactly the same explanation is given for their love.who are traditionallytransgender Hindu texts.1930). Debate For an exegesis of this important text. and . 86 (my translation). TheWorld of Homosexuals.One of these texts is the KrittivasaRa mayana. Inher 1977 book. Love'sRite.Raghavachariar.17 incarnations. said that same-sex loversmust have been cross-sex lovers in a former life. In the timesmarry othermen. Shakuntala Devi recorded her interview with Srinivasa Sanskrit scholar and priest of themajor Vaishnava temple at Raghavachariar.

forwhich theword love is often a euphemism. the god of love. because it is An rooted in emotion and imagination.Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls" 127 editions available in Calcutta book markets. insofaras it tells of a child born of the divinely blessed sexual inter course between two women who are co-wives.A child isfelt (ratherthan thought) to be produced not just by its parents but by some third force.No other story that I know of depicts twowomen producing a child to Opponents of same-sexmarriage today repeatedly argue that the purpose ofmarriage isprocreation. as far as I know. love emerges as the force that sanctifies the relationshipof the twowomen who produce a child together.'9This story is. in the ancient Hindu epic theMahab harata. too. this isof course not always the case.value of children thatmost societies. "Krttibasa's ship. gether. relationships It isbecause of the emotional. people past the age of reproduction. children are (or were. but it is alsomuch more than that. sanctifiestheir relationship. Stewart and Edward C. Why ismarriage allowed between infertilepeople.and people who do not intend to procreate?).Although this blessing is ideally supposed to be connected with the love between a child's parents. However. It is represented as an objective and universal force. Inmost cultures children are perceived as a divine blessing. unique.This emo but tionalcounterargumentwas offered by Rosie O'Donnell when she presented to the viewers of her talk show themanifest love between twomale partners and their adopted children. Most other narrativesof female-female love allow sexualconsummationof the premodern relationshiponly after one woman is changed into a man. not the rational. or ratherco-widows.whether or not they areproducts of love. ed. Children are frequently the prod uct of indifferent. until recently)products of sexual intercoursebetween aman and woman. 2001).who. In the sacred narratives I examine. emotional argument can be effectively answerednot by a rational only by another emotional argument. . and the story of Sikhan dini.loveless. a woman who becomes a man. see fertility as a divine blessing. even those like Indiawhich are severely overpopulated. Examples are the Greek myth of Iphis and Ianthe recounted by Ovid.The argument is not susceptible to logic. 243-64.whether Nature or God or the gods.This objection keeps popping up despite the dozens of logical refutationsoffered (for example.Kama."inQuestioning Ramayanas:A SouthAsian Tradition. Dimock. Paradoxically. Paula Richman (Berkeleyand Los Angeles: University of CaliforniaPress.and even hate-filled or violent connections between aman andwoman. It ison the basis of this euphemistic connection between sexualactivity and "love"that antigay forces with fertilityand curses homosexual claim thatGod blesses heterosexual "love" with sterility.the natural is also felt to be itselfmiraculous-patterns of pow 19 Apophatic Critique of Rama'sKing Tony K. by his presence.This force isexperienced as a subjectiveemotion.

. rewrite thatmedical prescription to turn such a child into an especiallymiraculous one.An ancient Hindu medical textconstructs the child of twowomen asmonstrous. the Ramayana attributed to the poet Krittivasa. One is the shift from an unemotionalprescriptive context to an emo tional and imaginativenarrative context. India: ChowkhambaSanskritSeriesOffice. and to goddesses.These texts tell the storyof how the hero.composed in the context of devotion to the preserver god. isborn to two co-widows after theirhusband. 132. rewrite this ideamore than amillennium later. English Translationof the "SushrutaSamhita. The medieval texts. It states that a boneless child (interpretedby commentatorsas having cartilaginousbones) is the result of an act of sexual intercoursebetween two women." Zwilling.The widows' 20 An KavirajKunjalalBhishagratna. In fact. a quick look at the ancient Hindu medical text.128 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion erful rhetoric represent every child as a miracle of sorts.The Ben gali texts are two versions of an accretive text. or sexual fluids.much earlier than the nineteenth-centurymedicalization inEu rope. with a littlehelp from their friends. they do not remark that the child is the natural outcome of heterosexual sex.do some opponents of same-sexparenting see this reproductionasmonstrous rather thanmiracu lous? The status of a child of same-sex parents asmonstrosity or asmiracle is contested inHindu texts composed in different generic contexts. The Sushruta suggests cures for some other conditions but does not prescribe any cure forbabies bornwithout bones. who love their devotees.Any greeting card shop in any city in theworld provides evidence that the rhetoricof miracle is more popular than the rhetoricof nature-greeting cards congratulateparents on the blessing or miracle of a child. the text seems to suggest that such births aremonstrous and the resultof impure acts. 1991). I suggest that this rewriting is enabled by two shifts."Chow khambaSanskritSeries 30 (Varanasi.The Sanskrit text is a fourteenth-centuryBengal re cension of a part of the Padma Purana. First. someme dieval sacred narratives. dissolve all impurities. As Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling have demonstrated. The second is the shift from an an cient purity/pollution context to amedieval devotional contextwherein gods. this constitutes the firstmedicalization of gender and sex ual identities. one Sanskritand two Bengali. dies childless.21 According to this text.20 in gender and sexual predilection.when same-sex couples pro duce children together. Bhagiratha. inwhich their sukra. unite in the womb of one of This statement ispart of the text'spathologizingof various differences them. Why.written in the Bengali script. awoman dreamingof sexual intercoursecan also conceive and give birth to a jellylikemass. the Sushruta Samhita.King Dilipa. in the context of pathologizing various sexual differences. 21Sweet and "First Medicalization. then.

Dacca UniversityOriental Publications Series 4 (Dhaka:P. the child is born beautiful and healthy.. god of love (alsoknown asMadan.. Love's Rite. In these two versions of the text. the gods' concern for the universe and for humans. This extract is translatedfor the first time intoEnglish. are the emotions that animate these devotional texts in the devotee is invited to participate?On the one hand. Shiva comes to the widows and instructsthem tomake love together.The textdraws the reader in to share all of these emotions. leading to child birth) into themiraculous. Chandra and Mala took each other in embrace. according to themedical text's prognostication. The women's lovemak isdescribed in conventional romantic terms: ing The skywas overcast with clouds. rongo love God's blessing had enabled the two women to play the game of and the energy [tej] of Madan entered the womb of Malavati. and theHindu equivalent of theGreek Eros). . This is how Malavati became pregnant. A full translation will appear inmy forthcomingbook. which What.22 I suggest that the emotional context in these narrativesenables the transfor mation of the potentiallymonstrous (sexbetween twowomen. 90-92. kingdom. the child isborn boneless. inspired thewomen's lovemaking. the twowidows seek out a sage to share their anxiety regardingtheirhusband's line having come to an end. See Bhattasali'sintroductionforan accountof thedifferentmanuscripts. Lahiri.the people. In one of theBengali versions. Burning with desire induced by Madan [god of love/desire]. In the Padma Purana. and the creator god Brahma explains that this is because Kama. and in the KrittivasaRamayana especially towardRama. there is the con flictingemotion of distaste at possible pollution caused by sexbetween the two 22 Nalinikanta Bhattasali. the swans sang and the peacocks danced. and the sage'sconcern for the royalfamily. The two women dallied and made love [Dui nari mono ronge krira kori]. Rdamyana-Adikanda. The skies darkened and a stormy rain followed. In the thirdversion of the text (the remainingBengali version). and ancestors.Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls" 129 sexual intercourse is planned and blessed by the gods. then. byAnannyaDasgupta.. and the gods. C. and their love for each other and for their child.Within this frame there are other emotions: the queens' unselfish concern for their husband's lineage. ed. but a sagemiraculously cures him-a possibility themedical textdoes not en visage. in the Padma Purana especially to ward Vishnu. the framingemotion is devotional love directed toward the gods.by Krttivasa. and each kissed the other. On the other hand. 1936).

the occurs in precisely that type of context. While they thus help strengthen patrilineage."23 One may compareMary's question in the Bible. down from heaven. He is connected to fe formation. but also all of his famous ancestors. it is the direct interventionand blessing of the gods that sanctifies the twowomen's relationship.. I know not aman?" and the angel's reply. that is. Rama. they also find erotic and emo tional fulfillmentwithin the constraintsof their situation. Krittivasa Ramayana. because he has no son to perform his last rites.In a sacramentalunder standing of marriage. to earth. varying eroticisms.half-woman) form. they are animatedby love for birth ispart of a largerdivine plan for Vishnu. Same-SexLove in India.The birth of Bhagiratha When King Dilipa dies childless. Shiva tells thewomen theywill have a child. how can we have a child?"He replies.130 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion widows. This endangers not only Dilipa himself. the possibility thatRama might not be incarnated is a fearfulone. India: Krttivasi BhuvanVani. 1966). See alsoChandrodayaVidyavinod ed. they ask.. maleness throughhis ardhanarishwara (half-man. 37 [KJV]). In the firstversion of theKrittivasaRamayana. Bhagiratha's the preservation of the universe.60-65. 2 Nandkumar . 100-102. The gods bless the two women's relationshipbecause it furthers thatplan.Most important. ed. In theKrittivasaRamayana. it is divine blessing that sanctifiesa secular relationship. Shiva is a god associated impossible"(Luke and miraculous birth. The texts set these conflicting emotions in play and resolve them by privileging some emotions over others. "Bymy blessings one of you will have a lovely child. whether Christian or Hindu. is to be born in the royal line of Ayodhya. royal lineage of the sacred kingdom of Ayodhya apparentlycomes to an end. it.1914). Bhattacharyya. For the devout readeror lis tener. The texts are pervaded by the emotion of wonder directed toward the gods. The reader isdrawn into sharingthe gods' anxietyand is also reassuredthat theplan must be good because the gods have devised for thewomen to become lovers made in heaven.Dilipa'swidows aremotivated by a selfless anxietyabout all thesematters when they ask the sage to help them have a son." storyoccurs in the firstsection. seeVanita andKidwai. Sachitra ManoranjanBandopadhyayaatHitavadi Pustakalaya. "Wearewidows. the incarnationof preserver god Vishnu. "With God. and to Avasthi. "How shall this be.who is also a god dess.It is also divine blessing thatmakes the appar when ently impossiblepossible. nothing shallbe seeing with gender trans 1:34.The (Calcutta: Ramayana Saptakanda which traces the ancestryof Rama. For anEnglish Kanda. All of these texts areVaishnava texts. the "Adi translation(byKumkum Roy). the preserver god.whose last rites cannot be per formeduntil one of theirdescendants brings the river Ganga. with Hindi translation (Lucknow.The match between the twowomen is literally The only reason for having children that is arguablyentirely unselfish is to replenish an underpopulated society or community. the task of bringing the welfare of the Ganga to earth is seen as essential to thematerial and spiritual human race. In the Padma Purana.

also Vanita. Same-SexLove in India. all embodied in the god Kama. especially inBengal. 25See "ShivaPurana:The Birth of Kartikeya.55-68. 26 92. 77-80 and 94 yappa andVavar: 99." is theword gener used to signify sexual intercourseeven today." trans. Rdmayana-Adikainda. My argument is that the 24See New York: Oxford Univer Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty. . Parvati. The presence of the god of love trumpsboth themedical prognostication that a child born of twowomen's union will be boneless and also the impurity possibly associatedwith twowidows' sexualunion. "Ay Celibate Friends. in that the child isborn healthy here and the inauspiciousness a deformed birth ispreempted of love. not fortu itousbut directly relevant to the auspiciousnessof the outcome." inVanita andKidwai. overflowing into an excess of pleasurable description-the monsoon. the creatorgod Brahma tells the twowomen that the god of lovemade their lovemakingpossible and that if there is any demerit associatedwith it.]26 The word sambhog. then. What is this love? It is an amalgamof the different typesof love cele by brated in the text-devotional love.Kumkum Roy. attraction. 1981). "Introduction: sity Vanita andKidwai. The widows' pleasure surfaces in the intersticesof the patriarchalfamilyand the patrilinealnarrative. are strippedof agency and totally forbid den to indulge in pleasure. Bhattasali.The romanticdescriptionof thewomen's love. Same-SexLove in India. The etymol name is similar in all three texts: ogy given forBhagiratha's je Bhagebhagesambhog tatheupagata Brahmadev thuilen nam bhagiratha. literally meaning "mutualenjoyment. the burning desire. familial love." in Press.Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls" 131 homoeroticism throughhis playful transformationinto a female to please his He wife. especially sexualpleasure.and sexualunion in this text is.The gods' agency and blessing are more powerfully evident in thisversion than in the other texts.25 In the second version of theKrittivasaRamayana. the kisses. and Ruth Vanita.he (Brahma) will take it on him self so that thewomen can be free of it. respectively. romantic love. Medieval Materials in the SanskriticTradition.a normative sacred text inBengal. ally That the twowomen arewidows is a factwhose significancebears exami nation. Siva.maternal love.24 also fathers childrenwith the help of other males (he fathers Ayyappawith Vishnu-Mohini's help. the presence of Kama. [Since he was born of the mutual enjoyment (sexual intercourse) between two vulvas The god Brahma named him Bhagiratha. theErotic Ascetic (1973. The KrittivasaRamayana. in love play. and Kartikeyawith Agni's help). endorses thewidows' sexualpleasure and thus flies in the face of the stereotype that Hindu widows.

tionships Conclusion InHindu sacred narratives. this-worldly pleasure my not central to traditional Christian theology.29 as amajor life goal is view.28 Writing as a Christian.The irrationalforce of the Christian condemna tionof Sodomy is the remainderof Christian theology'sfailure to think through the problem of the erotic.Like the birth of many heroes. or itmay.As discussed earlier. the criteria for judging a relationshippraise worthy appear to be the same whether the relationship is that of siblings.be seen to of function as an affirmative incorporation same-sex sexualand amorous rela within a religiousnorm of the good and sanctified life.132 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion gods. that a "pagan" emphasis on biological in conjunction with an acceptance of desire and bodily pleasure as fun fertility damental to lifemight be congenial to the construction of same-sexdesire as potentially. 175. Jordan. not Christian. Let me return to the argument that procreation is the purpose of sexual intercourseandmarriage. especiallyKama." thereby giving up theGospels' prioritizationof spirit over body. in their celebration of families and reproduction. Bhagiratha's birth. Chicago 28 Ibid. and that same-sex intercourseand union are there forewrong. such a concept of bodily. 1997). but this suspi cion alwayswas and still is contested inHindu philosophy and practice by the In dominant ideaof Kama or desire as one of the fournormative aims of life.but closer inmeaning to "the lawof one's being".artha (wealthandmaterial goods). righteousness. or itmay be subnatural and demonic.. conversely.Mark Jordanargues that thisargument arises from the fact that the Christian West has not fullyeschewed itshistoricalcondemnationof erotic and sexualpleasure in general: "The entire force of condemnation-including the surplusof force left over from the concession tomarriage-could be brought to bear on it [same-sex love].The Inventionof Sodomy inChristian Theology (Chicago: University of Press.have "degener ated into fertility cults. 174. 27 Mark D.Hindu ascetic tradi tions developed a deep suspicionof bodily desire and pleasure.The blessing of same-sex inter course with a miraculous child in the Bhagiratha textsmay be read as a het erosexist assimilationof same-sex coupling. likeChrist's."27 Jordan also points out thatmany branches of Christianity. 29 The other threearedharma (often translatedas justice. andmoksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirths). fertility One might also point out. Jordan sees the celebration of biological as pagan. Bhagiratha's birth is not in "the order of nature. .or religion. is framed as supernatural. fertile. however. overcome anxieties regardingthe legitimacyof this type of lovemaking. ifmiraculously."But most cultures acknowledge at least twoways of being un natural:a phenomenon may be supernaturalor divine.

Christian traditionsjudgemale-female relationshipsas bad or good depending on whether they are only about sexual desire (lust) or also about love. 31 See.have been mis interpretedand blown out of proportion. are not very different from those thatAlan Examining the tombsof same-sex cou Bray analyzes inhis book The Friend. 2003). the community.However. lovers.Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls" 133 friends. especially with loving same-sex relationships today.3Although I agreewith many of these arguments.Wrestlingwith God andMen: (Chicago: Wisconsin Press. which also reappear inmodem Indiancinema. among others. These norms. In the Bible a male-female relationship that is both sexual and loving can be cele brated as good (forexample.or spouses. Iwould add that same-sex sexual inter course is never represented positively in the Bible. Same-sex relationshipscannot be represented as good if they are explicitly sexual. they cannot be represented as sexual. and the gods. 1980).Hindu texts.The Friend (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. This absence allows those so inclined to focus obsessivelyon apparentlynegative references.The question is.and StevenGreenberg. because two individuals who selfishly desire each other for their own pleasuremay also desert each otherwhen they discover that they can get greater pleasure elsewhere. Iwould argue. Is the relationshipa selfish one or does it contribute to the greater good? Purely selfish relationshipsbased only on individual pleasure are judged undesirable and shown to logicallyculminate in disaster.and Naomi and Ruth. in contrast. because premodern Jewish were unable to fullyembrace human sexualityas good. the relationship in the Song of Songs). concerns sexual relations.andHomosexuality:Gay People inWestern Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century University of Chicago Press. Christianity. although theBible represents good same-sex relationshipsas intense and pas sionate. famous examples are those of David and Jonathan. and have nothing to do with homo sexuality. he shows that these relationships premodem Christian societies. Desirable relationshipsinnormativeHindu textsare those inwhich the in dividualsmake sacrificesnot only for each other but also for their familiesand friends. are occasionally able to represent same-sex relationshipsas both sexualand good.30 buried together in European churches from the fourteenth to the nine ples were publicly honored in teenth centuries. we Saleem Kidwai and I remarked that in the course of our research did " Alan Bray. humanity.Many Indian-languagecautionary folktales tell of aman andwoman eloping togetheronly to rapidlydiscard each other for other lovers. JohnBoswell. University of Homosexuality in theJewishTradition (Madison: . andChristian traditions I am aware of themany commentatorswho rightlypoint out that the biblical condemnationsof same-sex intercoursearehistoricallyspecific. Social Tolerance. 2004). The one significantdifference.

published inSan Fran and cisco since 1986 (http://www.33 a partnershipdeed. indeed.the crimewould seem to be not same-sex love as suchbut romantic love itself. . that the gov ernment amend themarriage laws to recognize same-sexmarriage. Therefore. Iwould modify that statement to say that themany suicides by same-sex couples in India today constitute a type of execution. and the couples live amarried life in their communities.see Trikone. Less ThanGay: A Citizens'Report on the Status of Ho mosexuality in India (NewDelhi: AIDS BhedbhavVirodhiAndolan.amagazine forSouthAsian LGBT people.32 The right tomarry has not. Mamata RaniMohanty andMonalisa Mohanty. One reasonmay be that the Indian state. 1991).Marriage still func tionsprimarily in the purview of familyand community.been amajor issue for of these organizations.Most of them are connected with organizations funded primarilyto combatHIV andAIDS. government does. but there are alsomany smallergroups fo cused on gay rights.Modern Indianmarriage laws recognize as valid any Hindu wedding conducted ac cording to the rites that are customary in the communityof one of the partners.S. 1999).The Indian govern ment does not confer asmany privileges andbenefits onmarried couples as the U. earlierways of accommodating love in itsmany formshave not disappeared from Hindu tradition. Those who witnessed theweddings of same-sex couples thatwere reported in the press over the past twodecades clearlyconsidered themmarriages.has not yet fully takencontrol of marriage in thewayWest ern democratic states have since the nineteenth century. 33 AIDS BhedbhavVirodhiAndolan.134 Journalof Feminist Studies inReligion not find evidence of anyone ever having been executed in India for same-sex relations.because romantic love is seen as opposed to socialnorms. However. In its 1991 reportLess Than Gay: A Citizens'Report on the Status of Ho mosexuality in India. This means that local communities play a large part in deciding what constitutes a marriage. India's longest-running lesbian-gay magazine.All such family ducted within the community. theABVA demanded. Bombay Dost. andFor PeopleLike Us (NewDelhi: AIDS BhedbhavVirodhiAndolan. A vastmajority of heterosexualmarriages in India today takeplace without a marriage license and are never registeredwith the state. It reiter ated this demand in For People Like Us.Given that many cross-sex couples also are driven to suicide today.most people never report theirmarriages matters are con or.The same-sexweddings that have taken place in Indiawith familialparticipation andHindu priests officiating consti tute one manifestation of that survival.trikone. theirdivorces-to the government. and severalother female couples in Indiahave also tried to 32For listings. among other things. so far.with the approval of elders.Today.whose Mamata andMonalisa had registered familieswere trying to separate them. though a any seculardemocracy.org). its 1999 report on the attempted suicide of twowomen. published inBombay since 1990.There are also many LGBT rights groups in India now.not the state.

many Hin dus considered intercaste marriage andwidow remarriageillegaland immoral. andmany Americans considered them unnatural. not by governments. The Indian situationmakes clear what is often obscured in the United States: the fact that however many rights a governmentmay confer or with hold.whether between a man andwoman. interracial marriageswere illegal in theUnited States. At the 2002wedding of Mala Nagarajan andVega Subramaniam. in Seat Subramaniam's father read a poem inTamil thathe had composed. anyonewho does not have it is only a mass of bones encased by skin.Vanita: "Weddingof Two Souls" 135 obtain legal recognitionof some sort for theirunions.A few decades ago. suchmarriages did takeplace. the eyes of enlightened people. In the tle. or two women. in the nineteenth century. he quoted the ancient Tamil seer and poet Valluvan: "The seat of life is poem love. and theywere realmarriages in Nevertheless. marriage is defined by people themselves. It isonly amatter of time before a petition is filed demanding that same-sexmarriages be recognized in law." Love is love andmarriage ismarriage. two men. .

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